Thursday, February 14, 2008

Spicy Tears Okawari

Ah, winter--a season where here on the Left Coast it's sunny and in the mid-70s. When the weather's like it was this weekend, watching Kanon felt like I was watching a madman's depiction of some alien, impossible world, a world where frozen water falls from the sky and piles up everywhere, and just for fun people build vaguely humanoid forms out of the stuff. I hear it's called "snow" and I vaguely remember it from the dimmest recesses of my memory, falling outside as I sang "searching for a distant star; heading off to Is-can-dar!" I'm not sure it's real, it's been a while since I've actually seen it fall from the sky, but Kyoani does make it look damn good.

So the winter anime season is halfway over, which is hard to believe--then again, I can't believe checks don't have "19" on the date line anymore, so maybe my internal clock's just running a little slow. Usually in winter the voices of Blogistan start to complain that there's nothing good out, can't wait for spring, etc., but this winter has been amazingly good, for me at least. Not only are Kimikiss, Clannad, and Bamboo Blade still running from fall, but three of the winter anime series in particular have just been awesome. And this is their story.

Spice and Wolf: Best ED ever. Peanut butterflies? I don't know if having the official lyrics makes it more comprehensible, but it's good to know there's still a big market in Japan for teaching English in case the US economy ends up in an implosion of debt. Speaking of the economy, if you told me a couple months ago that one of my favorite winter series would have a plot straight out of a medieval edition of the The Economist, a heroine with ookami-mimi, and a male lead who answers to Lawrence, I'd probably have said you should really lay off the crack, but that's where we are. Horo is just a great character overall, with more emotional range than the entire cast of Girls Bravo combined (OK, bad example, so does Gumby) and after episode 6 Lawrence gets some major points for guts. He really dodged a bullet with Chloe--I'd bet if he'd ended up with her, she'd have killed him in the middle of the night for leaving the toilet seat up or something.

Minami-ke Okawari: I know, it's different from the first season. The characters look different. Chiaki has bad gradient hair. In one scene the bastards drew the kitchen partition differently or something. Seriously, in the name of the Holy Bleeding Eyes of Jesus, what Unholy Monster, what freaking Hitler of the Anime World could commit such crimes?? (<-sarcasm) I honestly like the new character designs better, and while part of me wishes Asread went in a totally different direction and had Kana and Chiaki jumping out of an exploding E-3 with a giant squid on it, Okawari does a good job of putting a smile on my face, as much so as the first season did. While a lot of the reaction on the web seems to be negative, leading to a couple weeks' lag before subs appeared, I love it so far--and if Asread had gone first I wonder if Okawari would still be getting as much hate. Mako-chan is even funnier this season, Chiaki is still awesome--but they could run this series for a dozen seasons, with a different studio every time, and I probably still wouldn't get sick of it.

True Tears: Awesome animation (not a fan of the CG background characters, but otherwise looks really good), a likeable cast (except for the evil mom), and the drama is kicking up with episode 6--I'm surprised Hiromi's revelation came this early on, but the second half of the series should bring some really good drama. I'm wondering if the story would be better without Ai-chan, though, since zettai ryouiki or not she has a snowball's chance in hell and doesn't seem to be adding much to the story so far, but maybe they'll work her into things in a convincing fashion later on. Shinichiro's mom and the Evil Grandpa from H2O need to be sent to a deserted island somewhere with no food, just to see how long they can live on their own bile.

Even with all the good winter anime, my favorite series I'm watching right now is still Kimikiss--go Mao-neechan! Yuumi's nice and all, but she still doesn't seem to have much personality to me, aside from being rabu-rabu for Kouichi. If he does break up with Yuumi I'm thinking she'd sublimate on the spot.

P.S. As I go to actually post this it's raining and 40-something out...that's what I get for extolling the weather here...

Monday, February 11, 2008

Upcoming Anime: Kannagi

I don't read manga all that often, but for some reason (very possibly connected to the fact I had nothing to do at work Friday afternoon) when I saw this news brief on Anime News Network, I decided to check Kannagi out. After looking at the official website and the thread at AnimeSuki, I went to to find scanlations and ended up reading the first eight chapters--it's possible I'm just easily amused, but I loved it: it has some great laugh out loud moments, a likeable cast of characters, and while the premise makes it sound like another To-love-ru, it doesn't resort to blatant fanservice to draw in readers. There's no release date for the anime yet, but when it does come out, I have high hopes for it now.

The premise sounds completely generic at first--Jin is a high school guy living alone (doesn't anyone in Japan live with their parents?) who carves a statue out of a block of wood from a sacred tree for an Art Club assignment (since the tree was cut down to make way for new development.) As he's getting ready to go to school, his statue comes to life, revealing Nagi, the goddess of the land for the area, who's shocked to find her sacred tree has been cut down (probably to build a Wal-Mart--everyone blames everything on Wal-Mart these days.) With her tree gone and her powers weakened, Nagi needs Jin's help to catch 'impurities' which she can then purify in mahou shoujo-inspired fashion. There's also the mandatory osanajimi character thrown in to the mix, and Nagi turns out to have a sister, who takes after Momoka from Keroro Gunso a little in the personality department.

What makes this a lot of fun to read (and hopefully will make it a great anime series as well) is the characters--Nagi is just awesome, and Jin and the supporting cast are really good too. There are some great moments with her and Jin, like how Nagi tries to pass off accidentally gluing something to the dining room table as the work of her other personality, only to trip herself up in her lie later. Or the cooking contest she wins easily, showing she really can cook even though Jin's been making all their food.

It's not all comedy though, and there's definitely the potential for some more drama, especially if Nagi starts to like Jin or vice versa, although there's no overt signs of this so far. The relationship chart's pretty straightforward--Jin's osanajimi likes him, but it's not clear who Nagi likes and I'm sure this is something that will get developed more as the series goes on. It looks like the first four volumes are out in Japan, so I'm guessing this will just get a one cour run (12-13 episodes) but we'll see.
A-1 Pictures (sounds more like a steak sauce...) is the studio behind this, and the director also did the first four episodes of Lucky Star for Kyoani. Fortunately, I'm thinking there's no way in hell Kannagi can start out with five minutes discussing the right way to eat choco coronets. Here's hoping this will be a great anime series that lives up to the manga--if it does, Nagi-sama definitely has the potential to go far in Saimoe.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Kimikiss Rambling/Predicitions

The relationship chart for Kimikiss is still a mess, but things are getting a little clearer as episode 17 levels up the drama. As Stripey has pointed out it's hard to choose who to root for, knowing that either way a character you like will be heartbroken in the end. Other than the frogs, who I'd love to see boiled and served in some kind of reduction, I really like the whole cast, which makes it hard to pick who to root for.

I'm sure I'll be wrong on most of these, but just for the hell of it, here are some predictions/rambling thoughts on each character (spoilers for through ep 17):

Mao-neechan: While you can argue Mao's been stringing Kai along, I don't think it's fair to slam her for finally realizing who it is she really loves--I think Mao likes Kai well enough, but it's taken time for her to realize it's not the same as the way she feels about Kouichi. I feel bad for Mao because she's in an impossible position--she's finally realized she loves Kouichi, but she knows he's with Yuumi and believes he's happy with her. So what can she do? To put it in RPG-like terms, she has three choices: Do Nothing, Fight (confess), or Run Away. The first one's untenable because it's already causing her a lot of pain, which you can see in her avoiding Kouichi and being down all the time. The second I don't think she'll do either, unless it's in a moment of weakness, because she'll see herself as a nuisance to Kouichi and Yuumi's relationship and she'll want Kouichi to be happy, even if the result is heartbreak for her. So my best guess is she'll pick door number three and get on a plane back to France, and then the big question becomes does Kouichi finally figure out he's the reason she's been acting funny all summer and go after her?

Kai: Kai is the real wildcard in Mao x Kouichi--now that Mao's broken up with him, he can just go on with his life, try to win her back somehow (I'm picturing the scene with John Cusack holding up the boombox playing 'In Your Eyes' for some reason, but that'd be OOC for Kai...), or he can accept defeat and for Mao's sake try to push her to confess to Kouichi. I think Kai's smart enough to figure out that Mao does like Kouichi, the question is if Mao won't confess, will Kai do it for her? I can picture Kai confronting Kouichi, and telling him he's the reason Mao has been down lately--or in reverse, Kouichi could notice Mao is even more depressed than usual, mistakenly think Kai is the cause, and then confront him and have Kai tell Kouichi that way. Kai seems like a good guy, and seems to genuinely like Mao, so I'm thinking knowing he can't make her happy he'll try to push Mao x Kouichi along, but we'll see...

Kouichi: He's probably the biggest mystery--he seems to like Yuumi and clearly had a crush on her from the beginning, but at the same time he worries about Mao a lot, even when he's with Yuumi. Does he really like Mao, but has just put that thought out of his mind, seeing her as unattainable? If he knew Mao liked him, would he stay with Yuumi anyway out of guilt, or apologize to her and go after Mao? Or does he genuinely love Yuumi and Mao's just a childhood friend? I honestly have no clue what Kouichi will do--you can make a really good case either way based on his actions so far.

Yuumi: OK, Yuumi is easy to read--she likes Kouichi, period. That may make her a less interesting character, to me anyway, but she's definitely loyal to Kouichi, so I shouldn't fault her for it. Maybe she'll shock me and go rabu-rabu for the girl with the weird udon fixation, but I don't see Yuumi's feelings changing. Unless Kouichi shows signs of liking Mao, and Yuumi decides to fall on her sword since she's moving away anyway, but that doesn't seem likely.

Kazuki: I'm a little disappointed in Kazuki--Eriko dumped him over the phone, sure, but he doesn't at least go try to confront her in person? Then again, he probably doesn't know where she lives.

Eriko: It's hard to tell what Eriko is thinking, but I'm guessing when she went and saw Kazuki at the soccer match, seeing him celebrating with Asuka just made her feel like her and Kazuki were just too different to be together, and that he'd be happier with Asuka, so she bowed out of the race. I don't believe for a second that she doesn't like Kazuki--the scenes with her and Kazuki at Mitsuki's mansion seemed to pretty conclusively point the other way. Will she realize her true feelings and go after Kazuki? Or will Kazuki try to change her mind once school starts and they see each other again? I'm hoping she does end up with Kazuki--Asuka's a great character too, but Kazuki and Eriko just feel like a better couple to me, even as different as they are.

Asuka: Seeing how depressed Kazuki is will be a big test for Asuka--does she try to reconcile Eriko and Kazuki somehow? Or go the more selfish route, and take advantage of her chance? I don't think she's completely fooled by Eriko's exterior cool, deep down I have to think she believes Eriko does like Kazuki, and it's obvious the reverse is true. I'm guessing she'll fall on her sword and try to help set Eriko and Kazuki back up, believing Kazuki can win her over. In any case, I feel bad for her because it's clear she likes Kazuki and Kazuki only has eyes for Eriko, and most of us have been in her situation at least once in our lives, so it's easy to relate to her.

Mitsuki: Why did her character get introduced again? Is she even still in this show? I can't believe they'd introduce her and set up the whole "arranged marriage vs true love" thing without actually giving her the "true love" part, but she's gotten less screen time than the damn frogs. I was thinking they'd go Mitsuki x Hiiragi maybe, but I've seen zero sign of that so far. Seems like she's been condemned to Minor Side Character Hell, which I guess is fine given how the relationship chart for this series is complicated enough already.

Maybe it's just me, but I can't get used to the new ED--somehow it seems wrong not hearing "koware sou de..." start up at the dramatic moment at the end of each episode...

On an unrelated note--hopefully I'm not jinxing them saying this, but Spice and Wolf and True Tears are just awesome so far. I know as a Kyoani fan it's blasphemy for me to say this, but I'm looking forward to those two every week more than Clannad. I might just buy True Tears even at the insane prices Bandai USA wants to sell it for, provided the ending doesn't go all Mahoromatic Season 2 and turn into a trainwreck or something. Spice and Wolf continues to be impressive too, with Horo one of the more complex, interesting characters I've ever seen anywhere.